Like fellow arena rockers Styx and Journey, this band built its reputation around sweet poppy melodies paired with romantic/heroic lyrics, set against a framework of bravura electric guitars and prog flavored keyboards. The formula was golden. (As any teenage boy in the late 1970’s could’ve told you, it was great makeout music! Girls loved it, but it didn’t make you look wimpy if you got caught with it in your van’s 8-track. Try that with Bread or The Carpenters.)
REO did not hit that golden formula on the nose, however, until they brought singer/pianist Kevin Cronin on board… then sent him packing, then picked him up again. Go figure. In my humble estimation, though, and taking nothing away from nimble-fingered guitarist Gary Richrath, it was Cronin’s leaping, rollicking roadhouse piano playing that distinguished this band from the pack. Hits like Riding the Storm Out and Keep The Fire Burnin’ bear this out, and when it comes to power ballads like Keep On Loving You and Can’t Fight This Feeling, well, some of you out there might owe your very existence to one of these songs, regardless of the fact that ships don’t have oars.
After rocketing through the 80’s with powerhouse albums like Hi Infidelity and Good Trouble, the band rocked on into the 90’s, but with shifts in personnel, and to steadily diminishing attention. They were about to pack it in around 1997, when there was a sudden resurgence of interest in Classic Rock. This resulted in not only a flurry of reissues, but also a series of successful tours paired with such bands as Foreigner and Journey, which in turn led to new live recordings, one of the latest being a double CD featuring REO and Styx in a 2000 concert near the Gateway Arch. Perhaps it is a gateway to future success, and maybe a reunion of the classic lineup. Cronin, Richrath, and the rest aren’t ruling anything out.